This Tauber Trailblazer Has Plotted One Unique Career Path
“I think a problem that business has today is that people in different departments put their heads down and don’t think about the overall organization or how what they do has an impact on other departments,” Sang Kim, MBA ‘96
ANN ARBOR, MI -- Sang Kim, MBA ’96, holds two unique distinctions among University of Michigan grads. He was the first Tauber graduate hired at Boeing and the first Ross School of Business MBA to go to work at Amazon. While he’s pretty proud of both, his current career is quite a departure from his megacorp days.
Kim grew up in Alaska but headed to Seattle to attend the University of Washington for his undergraduate degree. He returned to the west coast to go to work for Boeing after earning his Ross MBA in 1996. A year or so later, he joined a little startup called Amazon.
“When I think back to my days at Amazon, it was a much different place then it must be now. We were just doing books then – before the music side launched,” he said. Amazon soon began shipping CDs from their distribution center, and the rest is electronic commerce history.
He left Amazon in 2004 to go to a small wireless startup, “I don’t even think they’re around anymore,” he said. Then in 2005, he made a decision that he never thought he’d ever make. He became an entrepreneur.
Today, he owns Denali Health Clubs in Seattle, Washington. With two locations and a staff that includes personal trainers, fitness instructors and nutritionists, this trailblazer calls himself the most overeducated treadmill repairman in history.
“I never considered myself the type to own my own business. But I think my experiences and knowledge, some gained at Tauber, gave me the confidence to do it,” said Kim. “I value the overall experience I had there. Tauber’s holistic view of business and problem solving has come in handy.”
Kim’s employees can attest to the fact that he is process-oriented. From new employee training to the supply ordering process, he has implemented precise steps for Denali Health Clubs to follow. “Take paper towels. We spend thousands of dollars a year on those things, and we don’t want our money just sitting on a supply-room shelf. I mean, I didn’t implement Kanban, but almost,” he said. He also has used his Tauber experience to solve bottlenecks on busy workdays. “I simply could not expand the building or add treadmills, so I resolved the operations capacity problem by expanding my hours. Now we open earlier and close later to accommodate more clients.”
A board member of Food Lifeline in Seattle, giving back to the community is something Kim decided to do after witnessing long lines at a local food bank. It was a during an especially bad snow storm – one that caused local officials to recommend that everyone stay home – that he saw dozens of people lined up outside for food. “Most people couldn’t even drive in that kind of weather, but being from Alaska, I was used to it. Still I was surprised to see how many people braved that weather because they were in need of food. It opened my eyes to the need in the community,” Kim said.
Leaving the corporate world for life as a small business owner was not a tough decision for Kim, and despite being on call to answer employee questions or open the doors at 4 am when the manager’s sick, he would do it all again. “I have a flexible schedule now, but I’m basically on call 24-7,” he said. When the schedule flexes just right, he spends time on his powerboat or on the ski slopes near his home.